Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/December 1914/German Militarism and its Influence Upon the Industries

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 85‎ | December 1914



MILITARISM in its true sense is the defense of home and family which has been forced upon the continental nations for the reason that they live in such propinquity to one another. Germany, for instance, is surrounded on all sides by potential enemies. Its frontiers are contiguous to Austria, Russia, France, Swtizerland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and it is separated by narrow bodies of water from Sweden, Norway and England. What such surroundings mean is evident in our own case. We have only two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, and with each of them we have had wars and frequent disputes, such as the Alaskan boundary question, the sealing and fishing controversies, etc. Inasmuch as our comparative isolation has not saved us from trouble, it is most remarkable that Germany, bordering on ten countries, has had so few wars.

German militarism is the application of arts and science as well as the most perfect organization and administration to the defense of the hearth. The prominent features of German militarism are conscription and the standing army.

Conscription has made the defense of house and family everybody's business and not the affair of a few hired men. It has caused the uprising of this wonderfully united nation as one man during this war, and it is the reason for the boundless self-sacrifice of the people—men, women and children—who all feel that everything must be given up for the fatherland and that individual wants and necessities, worries and pain do not count until victory and peace have been achieved.

The standing army has been pronounced by an American author to be the greatest democratic university of the world. Conscription and compulsory military service combine to make it the army of the German people, and not that of the Emperor, and therefore, German militarism is not the militarism of the Kaiser but of the German nation. Every one from the highest to the lowest is proud to be a member of the army and to be able to contribute to the defense of home and family. Here men of all types of education, the university man and the artist, mix with the laborer and the farmer. During the period of service they learn order and discipline. They are taught the value of punctuality, of exactness, of cleanliness and of obedience. They become aware of the fact that the individual is only a cog in the wheel of the big machinery. The few illiterate recruits from the most easterly parts of the country receive instruction in reading and writing; those recruits who have neglected to develop their bodies owing to lack of exercise improve in physique during their time of service, and in this respect the time spent in the army is of as much benefit as membership in an athletic club. The lessons learned are not forgotten by the soldier after his return to civil life, and order, discipline and the necessity of physical exercise become indelibly impressed on his mind.

It thus follows that the workingman who has had the advantage of a training in the standing army must be of especial value in the industries. An artisan who is cleanly, orderly, punctual, exact and disciplined, cannot fail to be an invaluable acquisition to a factory of any kind, and undoubtedly the success of the German industries in every branch of human endeavor is due to this class of well-trained laborers. This is a well-recognized fact in Germany, and similar views were expressed as early as 1893 by Dr. Caro, one of the greatest technical chemists of all times, who, in his classical description of the development of the German coaltar industry, published in the Berichte der Berliner Chemischen Gesellschaft, ascribed German superiority to the character of the workingmen who had served in the army.

German militarism early recognized the fact that the life and health of the laboring class are an important factor in the resources of the country, and consequently legislation for the protection of industrial workers has been evolved, which has become the pattern for all nations of the world. Even our own country which we think so free from militarism, has benefited by this German legislation, and when Governor Glynn of the state of New York, in becoming a candidate for reelection, reviewed what he had accomplished for the people during his term of office, he considered the Workingmen's Compensation Law as the most important of the measures passed during his incumbency. These compensation laws, together with the old age, accident, sick and death insurance laws, safeguarding and improving the economic conditions of the workers, are directly due to German militarism in its endeavor to husband the strength and earning power of the individual members of the industrial army. Even Lloyd-George, the arch enemy of Germany, copied these legislative measures of German militarism for the benefit of the laborers of England. To this constant care for the individual health and betterment of the working class are also due the establishment all over the Empire of government and provincial homes for convalescents, of homes in which persons suffering from incipient tuberculosis are treated, and of many other institutions with the object in view of promoting the recovery of those stricken with sickness.

These in a general way are the benefits which the industries of the ountry have derived from German militarism. Specifically, we note its greatest influence in the agricultural conditions of the country, an influence which is perhaps best expressed by the phrase "the balancing of the interests of agriculture and industry."

German militarism soon realized that in time of war the nation cut off from all supplies will have to feed not only its army but also its population. For this reason, special efforts were made to foster agriculture. On general principles, industry and agriculture are sworn enemies. Industry wants cheap food for its workers; agriculture wants high pay for its products—meat and cereals. It is one of the greatest achievements of modern Germany—and this is especially due to Emperor William II.—that these ever clashing interests were reconciled, and that they were made to see that for the common good compromises concerning taxes, duties, etc., must be adopted, under which both industry and agriculture could prosper. Hence, a give-and-take policy resulted, which has accomplished the greatest good for the greatest number, and has elevated agriculture to such a flourishing state that the feeding of the German people to-day is independent of foreign produce—quite different from England, where agriculture was sacrificed at the altar of the industry and where the soil was so outrageously neglected that the nation depends for its food supply almost wholly upon the importation of meat, flour, eggs, cereals, etc.

To bring about this magnificent result in Germany, agriculture was forced to produce as much as the soil could possibly bear, and consequently farming became intense. Cultivation of the soil, the feeding of animals, etc., became a science. Other sciences, especially chemistry and botany, contributed to the culture of plants adapted for the varied conditions of the climate and soil of the empire. Seeds were developed and improved to a marvelous extent. While the sugar beet at the beginning of the last century, when the manufacture of beet sugar was started, contained only about 4 per cent, of sugar, the quality of the seed was gradually so highly improved that they now produce beets with over 22 per cent, of saccharine contents. This seed is exported all over the world from Germany, and during the present war one of our greatest worries is that we may not obtain this excellent material from Germany in time to prepare our next year's crop.

The cultivation of potatoes, which were originally introduced into Germany from the United States, has been brought to such a wonderful stage of development that two distinct classes of potatoes are raised, the one rich in carbohydrates but poor in nitrogenous matter for the fermentation industry, and the other rich in nitrogenous matter for eating purposes. Curiously enough, seed potatoes are now imported into the United States from Germany because our farmers allowed this vegetable to degenerate to such a degree that it has substantially lost all value for seeding.

The science of fertilizing achieved the amazing result that Germany's soil, although cultivated for almost two thousand years, is to-day more productive than the virgin soil of the United States and Canada. Deserted farms like those of the New England States and the state of New York are unknown in the Empire. Chemistry is not only educating the farmer in scientific fertilizing but producing the requisite artificial fertilizers, and here again German militarism in its farsightedness has brought about most astonishing revolutions.

Of greatest importance in agriculture are nitrogenous fertilizers, that is, artificial manure which introduces nitrogen into the soil. The chief material for this purpose is nitrate of soda, which, as saltpeter, is imported in large quantities from South America. Unfortunately, this substance is also the sole raw material for the manufacture of nitric acid, and nitric acid is the chief material for the manufacture of all kinds of explosives. The French and English employ picric acid, which is trinitrophenol (lyddite, melinit) and is made by the action of nitric acid on carbolic acid. The Germans are using as their chief explosive trinitrotoluol (tritolyl), which is produced from toluol, a coaltar hydrocarbon, and nitric acid.

German militarism realized that two great dangers might arise from these applications of saltpeter. In time of war the importation of saltpeter might be stopped by the navy of a foreign nation, and it might therefore become impossible to manufacture nitric acid and explosives. The feeding of the nation might be interfered with, inasmuch as the soil could not be properly fertilized, and hence could not produce sufficient food-stuff's. Therefore, it became imperative that the nation must become independent of the importation of saltpeter.

The problem was solved by the utilization of nitrogen from the air, and in this way nitric acid was produced without saltpeter as a starting material. Unfortunately, however, the available processes can be carried out economically only in localities where cheap power is available, which to-day means countries where water power is abundant. Since Germany has hardly any waterfalls, and therefore is very poor in power created in this manner, the plants for the manufacture of nitric acid by utilizing the nitrogen from air were mostly established in Norway—a foreign country. The problem was therefore only half solved. But soon by the direct union of nitrogen and hydrogen, as accomplished by the ingenious synthesis of Haber, an absolutely independent source for nitrogenous fertilizers and nitric acid was created within the German Empire. The raw materials for the Haber synthesis—nitrogen from the atmospheric air and hydrogen from water gas—are obtainable in unlimited quantities in the country. In the Haber synthesis ammonia is first produced which, in the form of the sulphate of ammonium, is as efficient a fertilizing material as saltpeter. This method, however, has the disadvantage that the ammonia must be converted into nitric acid by processes which are not yet completely worked out. Undoubtedly, however, the economical manufacture of nitric acid from ammonia will soon become an accomplished fact, as recent publications seem to indicate that the problem is almost solved. During the present war all the saltpeter in the German Empire has been requisitioned by the government for the manufacture of nitric acid and the production of ammunition, while sulphate of ammonium obtained by the Haber synthesis and that recovered from the by-product of the coking industries takes its place for fertilizing purposes. The output of the existing Haber plant was doubled at the beginning of the war in order to provide sufficient sulphate of ammonium for the coming crops, and it is said that since that time another unit is in course of construction which will definitely secure Germany's requirements for nitrogenous fertilizers.

Another great benefit which, while the war lasts, will accrue to German agriculture from scientific farming is that the large acreage devoted to the cultivation of the sugar beet—usually the most fertile soil—will be directly available, without the use of additional fertilizers, for the raising of rye, oats, potatoes, etc. During the war Germany will not be able to export beet sugar which she does at other times on an extremely large scale, and will, therefore, not raise so many sugar beets. Utilizing this fertile soil for cereals, potatoes, etc., means an additional supply of food stuffs for the nation.

The industry for the recovery of the by-products from the coking process, which we already mentioned as a source for sulphate of ammonium, has also been highly developed because German militarism needed some of the resulting coaltar products for the manufacture of explosives. Benzol, toluol, carbolic acid, metacresol and diphenylamine are starting materials used in the manufacture of ammunition. Formerly, most of these substances were imported from England, where they were produced from coaltar obtained in the manufacture of illuminating gas by the distillation of coal, while in most other countries, for example, in the United States, illuminating gas is made from water gas. By developing the coking industry, that is, by suitably and economically heating coal, Germany has made herself independent of England, and now produces all the materials required for explosives and ammunition within her own borders.

Germany is also the only country which has made itself independent of England as far as its consumption of carbolic acid, one of the most important coaltar products, is concerned. This substance, employed both for explosives and as a disinfectant in general hygiene and surgery, is a material of war of the highest value. It was not considered wise nor profitable to remain dependent on foreign sources for such an indispensable article. Soon the ever watchful and resourceful chemist found artificial methods for its manufacture, employing domestic raw materials. To-day several German factories have installed plants to produce carbolic acid by the action of sulphuric acid on benzol and subsequent treatment with alkali. Whenever the price of coaltar carbolic acid rises beyond a point at which synthetic carbolic can be profitably manufactured, these plants are put into operation. They are promptly shut down when the price decreases.

German militarism, by initiating and promoting the everlasting battle between armor plates and armor piercing projectiles, also conferred great benefits on the industry and on mankind in general. We all know that as soon as an improvement in the manufacture of steel was made which allowed the production of armor plate of great resistance, the chemists and engineers evolved a projectile driven by powder, which would pierce such an armor. This fight is still on!

Instead of carbon, which originally was added to iron to produce the iron-alloy called steel, we now use nickel, chromium, tungsten, molybdenum, vanadium, manganese and silicon, which enable us to manufacture refined steel possessing varied properties. Most of these additions in order to give the desired results must be in the state of highest purity. These substances which at first seemed of no use in any other industry were produced primarily to fill the requirements of the manufacturers of cannon, projectiles and armor plate, and the largest maker of these elements in the pure state is the firm of Th. Goldschmidt, located in Essen, where it is able to work in close union with the Krupp Works.

By these modern improvements wonderful materials were placed at the disposal of the industries. The hardness of steel has been so increased that for safety vaults and safes an alloy is made which can neither be drilled nor exploded nor cut by the oxy-hydrogen flame. The chemical industries have been supplied with refined steel which is not attacked by acids, not even by boiling "aqua regia," while other modifications are not affected by hot caustic soda. Some of them are nonmagnetic, others are unaffected by atmospheric influences, or exhibit great resistance to electricity, while some possess high tensile strength. They are thus of specific value in the manufacture of automobiles, of steam turbines, of electric appliances, of rails for electric tramways, of dynamos, motors and transformers.

Vanadium steel furnishes our modern tools, which are distinguished by extreme hardness, and here a war on a small scale is going on between structural steel and steel for tools with which to work the former. Every improvement in the hardness of structural steel must of necessity bring about the manufacture of a still harder steel for tools, exactly as in the case of armor plates and armor piercing projectiles.

German militarism has also benefited the industries in a field where its activities could hardly have been expected. We refer to the manufacture of hydrogen and oxygen. Strange to say, these two gases which had never found any industrial application, although known since the birth of chemistry, have lately become of the greatest technical importance and are to-day manufactured on a tremendous scale. Hydrogen is used for military purposes in immense quantities for all lighter-than-air flying machines—the filling of Zeppelin ballonettes, the filling of captive balloons, which have become of such great importance in modern warfare, being constantly employed by the staffs of the armies for observation of the battlefield. By telephone and photography they are in constant communication with headquarters.

The cheap and practical methods which were evolved by the military authorities for the generation of hydrogen are now utilized in one of the industries which has recently become of the highest importance, namely, the manufacture of what is called "hardened oils and fats." By treatment with hydrogen, oils and fats in the liquid state are converted into solid materials, which usually command a higher price for technical purposes, such as the manufacture of soap, etc.; and low class fatty substances, which are not fit to be eaten on account of their appearance or odor may be transformed into valuable food materials. By the economical manufacture of hydrogen, which makes it possible to utilize such inferior goods for alimentation, German militarism again deserves well of the nation. It must also be noted that the cheap production of hydrogen is one of the prominent features in the above mentioned manufacture of sulphate of ammonium according to the Haber process. Thus the manufacture of hydrogen, while originated for military purposes, is helping to feed the nation by providing new edible substances, on the one hand, and a new source for fertilizers, on the other.

The manufacture of oxygen likewise assumed gigantic proportions, after it was found that armor plates could be cut almost like butter by the heat of the flame from a burner fed with a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, or oxygen and acetylene gas. At present, not only the cutting but also the welding of iron and steel is accomplished by means of such a flame; every machine shop is provided with an oxygen apparatus, and soon every garage will be similarly equipped, as it has been observed that the carbon collected in the cylinders of gas engines for automobiles, etc., can be easily removed by burning it out with the oxygen-flame.

The oxygen problem also plays an important part in the running of submarine boats where it is necessary to provide the crew with oxygen for breathing under particularly difficult circumstances. It is stated that nitrogentetroxide, a gas which can be easily compressed to a liquid, and which, when appropriately heated, decomposes with the liberation of oxygen, has been employed for this purpose with great success. But for the necessity of supplying oxygen to the submarine boats, this substance—until now largely a chemical curiosity—would perhaps never have been thought of for any technical purpose. Undoubtedly many other industries will avail themselves of this new source of oxygen under conditions similar to those on submarines, for example, for diving operations, in mines, for caisson work, etc.

Militarism in the search for new explosives discovered guncotton and thereby started the "nitrocellulose" industry. While guncotton made by the treatment of cotton with nitric acid proved to be an almost uncontrollable explosive, it was soon found that by a less energetic action of nitric acid on cotton, substances could be produced which were practically free from any danger of explosion. These lesser nitrated cotton products became the starting material for the celluloid industry in all its interesting and important branches. Besides furnishing various well-known household articles, billiard balls, etc., and substitutes for ivory and tortoise shell, celluloid became the base for a class of very valuable varnishes. It made amateur photography possible by the substitution of sensitized celluloid films for the breakable and heavy glass plates, and it provided humanity with its greatest agent of amusement and instruction—the moving picture show. But as the lesser nitrated cotton substances in celluloid, like all nitro derivatives, were not yet absolutely free from explosive risk under certain conditions, persistent efforts were made to find safe substitutes for them. Lately these experiments were carried to a successful termination, and acetylcellulose obtained by the action of acetic acid on cotton has replaced the dangerous nitro products, especially in the manufacture of non-inflammable films for moving pictures—a material in which the absence of danger from fire is obviously of the highest importance.

This acetylcellulose is also of distinct value in the manufacture of a varnish which finds its largest application in the construction of flying machines where its particular properties are of signal service. What a brilliant record of achievement in the search of militarism for a new explosive!

Militarism has also solved the problem for the textile industry as to which colors are most conspicuous and which least visible. Exhaustive tests showed that uniforms of a peculiar grayish-green shade rendered the soldier practically invisible in the field. How correct these observations were, was demonstrated at the start of the war when it was reported that the presence of the German troops was not noticed by the enemy at distances greater than two hundred to two hundred and fifty yards.

The most conspicuous color in all kinds of light was found to be red on white or white on red. This fact was made use of by the German advertising men who now paint their posters, etc., mostly in red and white, and also by the municipalities of German cities which are using red and white surfaces for sign-posts in their street. How peculiarly unfortunate for the French soldiers with their red trousers that they could not avail themselves of the result of these tests!

These few instances, which could be multiplied indefinitely, will suffice to demonstrate the correctness of my contention as to the manifold benefits conferred upon industrial development by militarism.

Evidently, therefore, German militarism is not the horrible institution which the English try to make us believe it is. It suits the German people, and it has made Germany one of the most powerful and prosperous nations, and enabled her to compete successfully in commerce and industry with the richest countries in spite of the lack of almost all crude materials, the natural resources consisting only of coal, iron and potash salts. Compare this with our country, which abounds in gold, silver, copper and practically all other metals, besides furnishing cotton and petroleum to the whole world. Yet as the result of wise legislation, incredible thrift and economy, the cooperation of science and technique, and thanks to its militarism, the standing army and general conscription, Germany has reached a most enviable position among all industrial and commercial nations.

German militarism is not the arrogance of a military caste whose intrigues lead to war. To its salient features—compulsory service and the standing army—Germany owes its organized industrialism, which has made possible not only the efficient defense of home and family, but the mighty victories gained by the nation in manufacture, commerce, the arts and sciences. German militarism ultimately means progress along the whole line—law, order and justice.